Friday, July 24, 2020

This Question is on Fire. Quick-fire.

The driving question of the past week was when is the baby coming? It has since morphed into should I do some graduate classwork right now or go cuddle and take a nap with the baby? I’ll let the reader decide how they think the latter question has been answered…

We rushed to the hospital last Wednesday night quite certain it was the real thing. Logistics were worked out for our two other kids, bags were packed- it was baby having time. Except it wasn’t. We came home and entered into four more days of waiting. Debilitating waiting.

During that in between time I thankfully had a chance to stumble back into my school building. I set up shop at my familiar desktop in the Design Lab. Wide computer screen, city window, faint smells of saw dust and 3D printing spools. 

How on earth is this self watering plant surviving quarantine so well?

I realized at least part of the answer is that the plant wasn’t “on earth” but in fact in a hydroponic growing medium. 

Settling into my familiar productive and creative space, I set out on my question quick-fire. 

Questionable JamBoard - Google Jamboard — Watch Video

The Jamboard questions flowed easily. A rush of reflections about my students, my school, and my teaching mindset arrived all at once. 

Now a week later, I am sitting on the concrete in the doorway of the high school down the street from my house- no outdoor tables unfortunately, but the district WiFi works great. The baby fog is clearing a bit, and the reality that some day I’ll do work again on a regular basis is sinking in. We’ll still cuddle in the evenings- I’ll make sure of that. 

The intersection of Warren Berger's A More Beautiful Question, my quick fire exercise, and my own teaching experience is thus:

In order for learners to ask worthwhile questions and tackle wicked problems, school needs to get out of the way. 

I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I have had the opportunity to actually enact on that premise as an educator- dismantling school, rethinking school, and recreating school. 

I will try to elaborate by walking through some of my notes and highlights from Berger (2014). 

  •  “Why are we doing this particular thing in this particular way?” (p. 6) is a core question of almost any innovation or creative spark. School typically dissuades and prevents this question from being asked. I wonder if the reason “is that questions challenge authority and disrupt established structures, processes, and systems, forcing people to have to at least think about doing something differently” (p. 12). Sharing power with students is scary, and counter to how school has always been done. “To encourage or even allow questioning is to cede power” (p. 13). 

  • “Such questions can be “fundamentally subversive, disruptive, and playful” and seem to “switch people into the mode required to create anything new” (p.32). I have experienced this “mode” for myself, seen it switch on in students, and count it a joy to design and work towards fostering it in our school. Or as Berger explains, “divergent thinking is that it mostly happens in the more creative right hemisphere of the brain; that it taps into imagination and often triggers random association of ideas (which is a primary source of creativity); and that it can be intellectually stimulating and rewarding” (p. 32). Rewarding. Yes. 

  • The current saying that teachers can so longer be the sage (or rage) on the stage is echoed by Berger stating “the comfortable expert must go back to being a restless learner” (p. 42). But that restlessness is coupled with the immense satisfaction of doing creative and authentic work. I think this is the wonderful tension of teaching for me- the designing and execution of a project with students leading to a “job well done” feeling, and yet always knowing “but wait, there’s more.”

  • “To the extent a school is like a factory, students who inquire about “the way things are” could be seen as insubordinate. It raises, at least in my mind, a question that may seem extreme: If schools were built on a factory model, were they actually designed to squelch questions?” (p.87). This question haunts me, but also motivates me to keep pushing the envelope as we continue building our high school. 

A More Beautiful Question resonates with me deeply. I love working at school teamed with an organization whose outlook is to "rethink high school." While there may be a little preaching to the choir going on- preach it! Cheers to messy work of asking, designing, and never stopping.

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